Is there such a thing as a bad manual transmission?

By Colin Wood
Nov 7, 2022 | Manual, transmission, Automatic, Discussion, Gearbox

Photography Credit: Courtesy Chevrolet

We’re all for saving the manual and choosing to row our won gears whenever we get the chance, but when has opting for the manual gearbox been a letdown?

Is there truly such a thing as a bad manual transmission, or are there gearboxes that are simply better than others?

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madmrak351 Reader
11/7/22 12:58 p.m.

If it was a 3 on the tree with a non-synchronized 1st gear I might go automatic. I have seen a few clutches that made the experience less enjoyable than it should have been, however most of those were self inflicted.

paddygarcia GRM+ Memberand Reader
11/7/22 1:11 p.m.

Nothing was really a good choice with a Chevy Citation, but the 4 speed transaxle (actually 3 + OD) did nothing to help the sorry engine move the sorry car. The dumptruck-like throws of the worst-feeling cable shifter ever were icing on the cow patty. 

Tyler H
Tyler H GRM+ Memberand UberDork
11/7/22 1:31 p.m.

A couple of notably bad manuals I've experienced -

Bull-nosed v4 Saab with the free-wheeling transmission.  You basically wiggle, shimmy, push and pull the linkage until some form of forward motion occurs and try not to mess with it.  

VW Corrado SLC - defintely had a gearbag with a rope linkage, but still a fun car. 

Unpopular opinion maybe - 911s with the 915 gearbox.

All that said, I wouldn't have opted for an automatic in any of those cars.

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
11/7/22 1:40 p.m.

Probably the worst I have driven was a T56 in a Mustang.  Shift throws were ridiculously stiff and notchy, and the cable mechanism for the clutch sucked even more than normal for a Fox.


Toyman! GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
11/7/22 1:42 p.m.

Any manual transmission I have to daily drive is a bad manual. They are fun for the occasional drive or the track, but I have zero interest in dealing with one on a daily basis. 


Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
11/7/22 1:43 p.m.

Oh, definitely. The worst I've ever driven was an Ariel Atom with a Honda K. 6 in the air, absolutely no indication of where a gear might be. I ended up just leaving it in 3rd so I didn't do something expensive. An automatic would have been a big improvement because then it actually would have had gears.

msterbeau Reader
11/7/22 1:45 p.m.

Almost certainly.  It may be that the gearbox itself has been poorly engineered.  Or there may be just one specific issue but in daily use it occurs often and ruins the whole experience.  It could be that the linkage or some part of the actuating mechanism is badly designed.  Same outcome.  I'm finding that pedal location, particularly of the clutch and it's disengagement point can provide a fair bit of annoyance. If you're trying to shift quickly and that point far into the pedal travel you may not be completely disengaging the engine from the gearbox.  That results in either grinding, a reluctance for the car to go into the next gear or both.  I'm driving a Kia Forte GT and it suffers from some of the last two things I mentioned.  When it works it's great.  But the amount of balking and missed shifts is way too many to be driver error alone.  

RadBarchetta New Reader
11/7/22 1:47 p.m.

Chevy Cruze had the sloppiest, slowest manual transmission I've ever had the displeasure of driving. If stuff like that is reason for low take-rates, I can't say I blame anyone.

Matt B (fs)
Matt B (fs) UltraDork
11/7/22 1:59 p.m.

Friend in high school had a foxbody stang with some sort of four banger swapped in.  I have no idea what it was hooked up to, but it was a classic wooden spoon in a box of rocks kind of experience.

93gsxturbo UltraDork
11/7/22 2:10 p.m.

In the drag racing world, the bulk of the fast DSM guys have gone to automatics.  Way less driveline shock and hold power a lot better.  Pretty funny because when I first got into DSMs you couldnt give away the automatic transmission cars and you would just toss the whole driveline during a partout.  Now everyone wants the automatic stuff.  

I cant say I would want a manual in my 2021 F150, but I didnt mind the auto in my 2002 F250 with the Powerstroke.  Something about rowing gears on a big diesel was very enjoyable. 

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